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Cinnabar Shadows - Lynn Abbey

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Cinnabar Shadows - Lynn Abbey Cinnabar Shadows - Lynn Abbey

    Cinnabar Shadows

    Chronicles of Athas

     Book Four

    Lynn Abbey

Cover art by Brom.

    First Printing: July 1995 Printed in the United States of America

    Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 94-61678ISBN: 0-7869-0181-0

    Table of Contents Dedication

    Chapter One

    Chapter Two

    Chapter Three

    Chapter Four

    Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Epilogue

This book is dedicated to Lonnie Loy my accountantA good accountant is like a good magician:

There are lots of places you just won’t survive without one on your side.

    Chapter One

    Urik.

    Viewed through the eye of a soaring kes’trekel, the walled city was a vast sulphur carbunclerising slowly out of a green plain. Towers, walls, and roofs shimmered red, gold, and amber, asif the city-state itself were afire in the steeply slanted light of a dying afternoon. But theflames were only the reflections of the sun’s bloody disk as it sank in the west: an everydaymiracle, little noticed by the creatures great and small, soaring or crawling, that dwelt inUrik’s purview.

    Roads like veins of gold traced from city walls to smaller eruptions in the fertile plain.Silver arteries wove through the patchwork fields that depended on that burden of water as Urikdepended on the fields themselves. Beyond the ancient network of irrigation channels, the greenplain faded rapidly to dusty, barren badlands that stretched endlessly in all directions exceptthe northwest, where the dirty haze of the Smoking Crown Volcano put a premature end to thevision of man and kes’trekel alike.

    Drifting away from the haze, toward the city, a kes’trekel’s eye soon enough discerned themonumental murals decorating the mighty walls. One figure dominated every scene: a powerful manwith the head of a lion. Sometimes inscribed in profile, other times full-face, but neverwithout a potent weapon grasped in his fist, the man’s skin was burnished bronze, his flowinghair a leonine black, and his eyes a fierce, glassy yellow that shone with blinding brilliancewhen struck by the sun.

    The kes’trekel swerved when Urik’s walls flashed gold. Through uncounted generations, thescaled birds had adapted to the harsh landscapes of the Athasian Tablelands. They knew nothingnatural, nothing worthwhile, nothing safe or edible shone with such a brief yet powerful light.Given their instincts and wings, they sought other, less ominous night roosts. The men andwoman trudging along the dusty ocher roads of Urik’s plain possessed the same instincts but,bereft of wings, could only flinch when the blinding light whipped their eyes, then swallow ahard lump and keep going.

    Unlike the kes’trekels, men and women knew whose portrait was repeated on Urik’s walls: LordHamanu, the Lion of Urik, King of Mountain and Plain, the Great King, the Sorcerer-King.

    Their king.

    And their king was watching them.

    No Urikite doubted Lord Hamanu’s power to look through any wall, any darkness to find thesecrets written on even a child’s heart. Lord Hamanu’s word was Law in Urik, his whimJustice. In the Tablelands where death was never more than a handful of unfortunate days away,Lord Hamanu gave Urik peace and stability: his peace, his stability—so long as his laws

    were obeyed, his taxes paid, his templars bribed, and he himself worshiped as a living,immortal god.

    Lord Hamanu’s bargain with Urik had withstood a millennium’s testing. There was, despite thecringing, a measure of pride in the minds of those roadway travelers: their king had not fallenin the Dragon’s wake. Their city had prospered because their king was as wily and farsightedas he was rapacious and cruel. The mass of them felt no urge to follow the road into thebadlands, to the other city-states where opportunity consorted openly with anarchy. Whereverthey lived—on a noble estate, in a market village, or within the mighty walls—most Urikiteswillingly hurried home each evening to their suppers and their families.

    They had to hurry: Lord Hamanu’s domain extended as far as his flashing eyes could be seen,and farther. Early on in his career as sorcerer-king, he’d decreed a curfew for law-abidingfolk that began with the appearance of the tenth star in the heavens. And, unlike some of hisother law-making whims, that curfew stood unchanged. Law-abiding folk knew better to lingerwhere the king or his minions could find them after sunset.

    Except in the market villages.

    In another longstanding whim, Lord Hamanu did not permit anyone to enter his city unannounced,and he levied a hefty tax on anyone who stayed overnight at a public house within its walls. Inconsequence of this whim—and the city’s daily need for food that no whim could eliminate—tenmarket villages studded Urik’s circular plain. In a rotation as old as the reign of King ofthe Plain himself, the ten villages relayed produce from nearby free-farms and outlying nobleestates into the city. They also gave their names to the days of Urik’s week. On the eveningbefore its nameday, each village swelled with noisy confusion as farmers and slaves gathered togossip, trade, and—most importantly—register with the templars before the next morning’strek to the massive gates of Urik.

    Nine of the villages were sprawling, almost friendly settlements with walls and gatehouses thatcould scarcely be distinguished from animal pens. Registrators from the civil bureau of LordHamanu’s templarate had become as much a part of the community as templars could, consideringtheir loyalties and the medallions hung around their necks, symbols of Hamanu and the terriblepower a true sorcerer-king could channel to and through his chosen minions.

    In many cases, the registrators had been born and raised in their village, as had theirparents, grandparents, and so on back through the generations. In their inmost thoughts, theyconsidered themselves Modekaners, Todekites, Khelons, and such. Villagers rather than city-dwellers, they had no ambition to brave the dangers of Urik’s greater hierarchy. To protecttheir sinecures, the rural yellow-robes had learned the arts of negotiation. They compromisedwhen compromise would resolve a village problem without attracting the attention of theirsuperiors in the civil bureau—much less that of their overlord, Mighty Hamanu.

    Long after curfew on market-day eve and market-day night, there was usually music in thevillage streets and raucous laughter in its inns.

    Except in the market village of Codesh.

    The first day of Urik’s week and the first of its villages, Codesh was as old as the cityitself. In the beginning, before conquering Hamanu laid claim to this corner of the Tablelands,it was also larger than Urik—or so the village elders proclaimed at every opportunity.Codeshites feared Hamanu more than their compatriots in the other villages because theychallenged him more than his other subjects would dare. When there was trouble outside Urik’swalls, Codesh was the first place the templars came. Not templars from the tame civil bureau,but hardened veterans from the war bureau, armed with dark magic and the will to use it.

    There was no camaraderie between templars and villagers in Codesh.

    Wicker walls and rickety towers weren’t sufficient for the fractious village. Both Codeshiteand Urikite templars wanted stalwart towers and fortress walls that might give them theadvantage if push ever came to shove. Codesh’s walls were only a third as high as Urik’s, butthat was more than enough to separate the stiff-necked Codeshites from the more congenialmarket-farmers who congregated outside the village walls on Codesh eve and Codesh night eachweek.

    There were murals on the Codesh walls: the obligatory portraits of the Lion of Urik, withoutthe sunset flashing eyes, and invariably armed with a butcher’s poleaxe, which explained whatthe village was and why its insolence was tolerated generation after generation. Codesh wasUrik’s sanctioned abattoir: the place where beasts of every kind were brought for slaughter inthe open-roofed, slope-floored killing ground and processed into meat and other necessities.

    Nothing valuable was wasted by the butchery clans of Codesh. Each beast that came into theirhands was slain, gutted and carefully flensed into layers of rawhide and fat that wereconsigned to subclans of tanners and Tenderers, all of whom maintained reeking establishmentselsewhere within the Codesh walls. The Tenderers took the small bones and offal, as well,adding them to the seething brews of their giant-sized kettles. Long bones went to bonemen whoexcised the marrow with special drills, then sold the best of what remained to joiners for thebuilding of houses, and the scraps to farmers for their fields.

    Honeymen collected the blood that ran into the pits at the rear of each killing floor. Theydried the blood in the sun and sold it underhand to mages and priests of every stripe. Theyalso sold their rusty powder overhand to the farmers who dribbled it like water on their mostprecious crops. Gleaners collected their particular prizes—jewel-like gallstones, misshapedorgans, bright green inix eyes, polished pebbles from erdlu gizzards—and sold them, noquestions asked, to the highest bidder. Gluemakers took the last: hooves, talons, beaks, andthe occasional sentient miscreant whose body must never be found.

    And if some bloody bit did fall from a clansman’s cart, sharp-eyed kes’trekels flockedcontinuously overhead. With an eerie scream, the luckiest bird would fold its wings and plummetfrom the sky. A score of others might follow. A kes’trekel orgy was no place for thefainthearted. The birds brawled as they fed, sometimes on each other, until nothing remained.Even a strong-stomached man might wisely turn away.

    The mind-bender who’d claimed the mind of a soaring kes’trekel from boredom hours earlier letit go when it became part of that descending column of hungry scavengers. He settled into hisown body, his thoughts returning to their familiar byways through his mind, sensation comingback to arms, not wings, to feet, not talons. The constant, overwhelming stench of Codeshstruck the back of his nose. He breathed out heavily, a conscious reflex, expelling the poisonsin his lungs, then breathed in again, accepting the Codesh air as punishment.

    “Brother Kakzim?”

    The urgent, anxious whisper in Kakzim’s ear completed his return. He opened his eyes andbeheld the killing floor of Codesh’s largest slaughterhouse. His kes’trekel was one of ascore of birds fighting over a length of shiny silver gut. Before Kakzim could avert his eyes,the largest kes’trekel plunged its sharp beak into the breast of the bird whose mind he hadlately haunted. Echoes of its death gripped his own heart; he’d been wise, very wise, toseparate himself from the creature when he did.

    He steadied himself on the polished bone railing that framed the balcony where he stood,waiting for the pangs to end. It was a somewhat awkward reach. Everything in Codesh was builtto accommodate the needs of adults of the human race, who were by far the most numerous and,indeed, the most average of the sentient races throughout the Tablelands. Elves and dwarvesmade do without much difficulty, half-giants were cramped and clumsy, and halflings likehimself were always reaching, climbing, or standing on their toes.

    “Brother? Brother Kakzim, is there—? Is there a problem, Brother Kakzim?”

    Kakzim gave a second sigh, wondering how long his companion had been standing behind him. Amoment? A watch? Since he snared the now-dead kes’trekel? Respect was a useful quality in anapprentice, but Cerk carried it too far.

    “I don’t know,” he said without looking at the younger halfling. “Tell me why you’restanding here like a singed jozhal, and I’ll tell you if there’s a problem.”

    The senior halfling lowered his hands. The sleeves of his dark robe flowed past his wrists toconceal hands covered with scars from flames, knives, and other more obscure sources. Therobe’s cowl had fallen back while his mind had wandered. He adjusted that, as well, tuggingthe cloth forward until his face was in shadow. Wispy fibers brushed against his cheeks, eachfeeling like a tiny, acid-tipped claw. Kakzim made another quick adjustment and let his breathout again.

    The bloody sun had risen and set two-hundred fifty-four times since Kakzim had brushed asteaming paste of corrosive acid over his own face, exchanging one set of scars for another.That was two-thirds of a year, from highsun to half ascentsun, by the old reckoning; tenquinths by the current Urik reckoning, which divided the year into fifteen equal segments; ortwenty-five weeks, as the Codeshites measured time. For a halfling born in the verdant forestsbeyond the Ringing Mountains, weeks, quinths, and years had no intrinsic meaning. A halflingmeasured time by days, and there had been enough days to heal the acid wound into twisted knotsof flesh that still burned when touched or moved. But the acid scars were more honorable than

the ones they replaced, and constant pain was a fitting reminder of his failures.

    When he was no older than Cerk—almost twenty years ago—Kakzim had emerged from the forestsfull of fire and purpose. The scars from the life-oath he’d sworn to the Black-Tree Brethrenwere still fresh on his heart. The silty sea must be made blue again, the parched land

    returned to green. What was done must be undone; what was lost must be returned. No sacrifice

     The Black-Tree had drunk his blood, and the elder brothers had given him hisis too great.

    life’s mission: to do whatever he could to end the life-destroying tyranny of the Dragon andits minions.

    The Black-Tree Brethren prepared their disciples well. Kakzim had sat at the elders’ feetuntil he’d memorized everything they knew, then they’d shown him the vast chamber below theBlack-Tree where lore no halfling alive understood was carved into living roots. He’d dweltunderground, absorbing ancient, forgotten lore. He knew secrets that had been forgotten for amillennium or more and the elders, recognizing his accomplishments, sent him to Urik, where theDragon’s tyranny was disguised as the Lion-King’s law.

    Kakzim made plans—his genius included not merely memory, but foresight and creativity—hewatched and waited, and when the time was ripe, he surrendered himself into the hands of aUrikite high templar. They made promises to each other, he and Elabon Escrissar, that day whenthe half-elf interrogator took a knife, carved his family’s crest into Kakzim’s flesh, thenpermanently stained the scars with soot. Both of them had given false promises, but Kakzim’slies went deeper than the templar’s. He’d been lying from the moment he selected Escrissar asa suitable partner in his life’s work.

    No halfling could tolerate the restraints of forced slavery; it was beyond their nature. Theysickened and died, as Escrissar should have known… would have known, if Kakzim hadn’t

    clouded the templar’s already warped judgment with pleas, promises and temptations. Escrissarhad ambitions. He had wealth and power as a high templar, but he wanted more than the Lion-Kingwould concede to any favorite. In time, with Kakzim’s careful prompting, Escrissar came towant Lord Hamanu’s throne and Urik itself. Failing that—and Kakzim had known from the startthat the Lion-King could not be deposed—it had been possible to convince Escrissar that whathe couldn’t have should be destroyed.

    Reflecting on the long years of their association, Kakzim could see that they’d both beendeluded by their ambitions. But then, without warning from the Black-Tree or anything Kakzimcould recognize as their assistance, Sorcerer-King Kalak of Tyr was brought down. Less than adecade later Borys the Dragon and the ancient sorcerer Rajaat—whom the Black-Tree Brethrencalled the Deceiver—were vanquished as well.

    For the first time in a millennium there was reason for a Black-Tree brother to expect successin his life’s work.

    Kakzim sent a message back across the Ringing Mountains—his first in fifteen years. It was nota request for instructions, but an announcement: The time had come to unlock the ancienthalfling pharmacopoeia, the lore Kakzim had memorized while he dwelt among the Black-Tree’sroots. The time had, in fact, come and passed.

    Kakzim informed the elders that he and the man who thought he was Kakzim’s master were making

     Laq— an ancient, dangerous elixir that restored those on exhaustion’s brink, but enslavedand destroyed those who took it too often. Their source was innocuous zarneeka powder they’dfound in Urik’s cavernous warehouses. The supply, for their needs and purposes, was virtuallyunlimited.

    The seductive poison spread quickly through the ranks of the desperate or despondent, sowingdeath. He and Escrissar planned to expand their trade to include the city-state of Nibenay.When both cities were contaminated, their sorcerer-kings would blame each other. There’d bewar. There’d be annihilation and, thanks to him, Brother Kakzim, the Black-Tree Brethren wouldsee their cause victorious.

    Kakzim promised on his life. He’d opened the old scars above his heart and signed his messagewith his own blood.

    He’d had no doubts. Escrissar was the perfect dupe: cruel, avaricious, enthralled by his ownimportance, blind to his flaws, easily exploited, yet blessed with vast wealth and indulged byLord Hamanu, the very enemy they both hoped to bring down. The plans Kakzim had made wereelegant, and everything was going their way until a templar of the lowest sort blundered acrosstheir path.

    Paddle, Puddle, Pickle… Kakzim couldn’t remember the ugly human’s name. He’d seen him onceonly, at night in the city warehouse when catastrophe had been the furthest thought from hismind. The yellow-robed dolt was boneheaded stupid, throwing himself into battles he couldn’thope to win. It beggared halfling imagination to think that templar Pickle could stand in theirway at all, much less bring them down. But the bonehead had done just that, with a motleycollection of allies and the kind of luck that didn’t come by chance.

    Kakzim had abandoned Escrissar the moment he saw disaster looming. Halflings weren’t slaves;Black-Tree Brethren weren’t martyrs, not for the likes of Elabon Escrissar. Kakzim raidedEscrissar’s treasury and went to ground while the high templar marched to his doom on the saltwastes.

    Ever dutiful to the elder brothers of the Black-Tree, Kakzim had sent another message acrossthe Ringing Mountains. He admitted his failure and promised to forfeit his now-worthless life.Kakzim used all the right words, but his admissions and promises were lies. He knew he’d mademistakes; he’d been bested, but not, absolutely not, defeated. He’d learned hard lessons andwas ready to try again. The cause was more important than any one brother’s life, especiallyhis.

    Brother Kakzim wasn’t any sort of martyr. He told the elder brothers what they’d want to hearand fervently hoped they’d believe his promise of self-annihilation and never bother himagain. He was deep in his next plotting, here in the market-village of Codesh, when his newapprentice arrived fresh out of the forest and with no more sense than a leaf in the wind.

    He’d wanted to send Cerk back. Bloody leaves of the bloody Black-Tree! He’d wanted to killthe youngster on the spot. But without the resources of House Escrissar behind him, Kakzimdiscovered he could use an extra set of hands, eyes, and feet—so long as he didn’t deludehimself that those appendages were attached to a sentient mind.

    “Brother Kakzim? Brother Kakzim—did you—? Have you—? Are you having one of your fits?Should I guide you to your bed?”

    Fits! Fits of boredom! Fits of frustration! He was surrounded by fools and personally served bythe greatest fool of all!

    “Don’t be ridiculous. Stop wasting my time. Tonight’s an important night, you know. Tell mewhatever it is you think I must know, then leave me alone and stop this infernal chatter aboutfits! You’re the one with fits.”

    “Yes, Brother Kakzim. Of course. I merely wanted to tell you that the men have begun toassemble. They’re ready—armed exactly as you requested—but, Brother, they wish to be paid.”

    “Then pay them, Brother Cerk!” Kakzim’s voice rose into a shrill shout as he spun aroundon his companion. The cowl slid back, dusting his flesh with excruciation as it did. “We’reso close. So close. And you torment me!” He grabbed the youngster’s robe and shook itviolently. “If we fail, it will be your fault!”

* * *

Cerk staggered backward, lucky to keep his balance—lucky to be alive at all.

    The elders of the Black-Tree had warned him Brother Kakzim would not be an easy master, butthat he should be grateful for the opportunity. They said Brother Kakzim was a genius in the

    alchemic arts. There was no halfling alive who knew what Brother Kakzim knew about the old waysof manipulation and transformation. Brother Kakzim had decrypted the ancient knowledge theBrethren guarded at the Black-Tree. He knew what the ancestors knew, and he’d begun to use it.The elders wanted to know more about how Brother Kakzim was applying his knowledge. They

    wanted Cerk to be their eyes and ears in Urik.

    An apprentice should be grateful for such an opportunity, for such trust, and Cerk supposed he

     a master beyond reckoning where alchemy was concerned; Cerk hadwas. Brother Kakzim was

    learned things in this foul-smelling village he could never have learned in the Black-TreeForest. But Cerk wished the elder brothers had mentioned that Brother Kakzim was completelymad. Those white-rimmed eyes above the ruined cheeks looked out from another plane and had thepower to cloud another man’s thoughts, even another halfling’s thoughts.

    Cerk was careful not to look straight at Brother Kakzim when the madness was on him, as it wasnow. He kept his head down and filled his mind with thoughts of home: lush green trees drippingwater day and night, an endless chorus of birds and insects, the warm, sweet taste of ripebellberries fresh off the vine. Then Cerk waited for the danger to pass. He judged it had whenBrother Kakzim adjusted his robe’s sleeves and cowl again, but he was careful to stay out ofreach.

    “It is not just the men who want to be paid, Brother Kakzim. The dwarves who own this placewant to be paid for its use tonight, and for the rooms where we’ve lived. And the joiners saywe owe them for the scaffolding they’ve already constructed. We owe the knackers and the elvengleaner, Rosu. She says she’s found an inix fistula with the abscess still attached, but shewon’t sell it—”

    “Pay them!” Brother Kakzim repeated, though without the raving intensity of a few momentspast. “You have the coins. I’ve given you all our coins.”

    “Yes,” Cerk agreed, thinking of the sack he kept under his bed. Money had no place in theBlack-Tree Forest. The notion that a broken ceramic disk could be exchanged for food, goods, ora man’s service—indeed, that such bits, disks, or the far rarer metal coins must be

    exchanged—was still difficult for him to understand. He grappled with the sack nightly,arranging its contents in similar piles, watching as the piles grew steadily smaller. “I keepcareful count of them, Brother Kakzim, but if I give these folk all that they claim is theirs,we ourselves will have very little left.”

    “Is that the problem. Brother Cerk?”

    Reluctantly, Cerk bobbed his head.

    “Pay them,” Brother Kakzim said calmly. “Look at me, Brother Cerk—”

    Cerk did, knowing it was a mistake, but Brother Kakzim’s voice was so reassuring at times.Disobedience became impossible.

    “You don’t doubt me, do you?”

    Cerk’s lower lip trembled. He couldn’t lie, didn’t want to tell the truth.

    “Is it the money, Brother Cerk? Haven’t I always given you more money when you needed it?Money is nothing to worry about, Brother Cerk. Pay the insects. Pay them generously. Moneygrows like rope-vine in shadowed places. It’s always ready for harvest. Don’t worry aboutmoney, Brother Cerk.”

    He wasn’t such a fool as that. The Brethren elders hadn’t sent him out completely unprepared.It was the precision of money that eluded him: the how and why that equated a day of a man’slife with a broken chip from a ceramic disk, while the rooms he and Brother Kakzim occupiedabove the slaughterhouse equated an entire ceramic disk each week, and Rosu’s festeringfistula was the same as an entire shiny silver coin.

    Cerk knew where money came from generally and Brother Kakzim’s specifically. Whenever the needto refill the sack arose, he sneaked into Urik following the brother through the maze of sharp-angled intersections and identical buildings. Brother Kakzim’s money came from a blind alley

    hoard-hole in the templar quarter of the city, and it was much diminished compared to what ithad been when Cerk first saw it.

    No doubt Brother Kakzim could harvest ceramic disks and metal coins from other trees. BrotherKakzim didn’t risk his fingers when he picked a pocket. All Brother Kakzim had to do was toucha rich man’s thoughts with mind-bending power—as Brother Kakzim was doing to Cerk at thisvery moment—and that man would shed his wealth on the spot.

    As Cerk should have shed his doubts beneath the seductive pressures of Brother Kakzim’s Unseenurging. And maybe the Urikites were as simple as lumbering mekillots. Maybe their minds couldbe touched again and again with them never recognizing that their thoughts were no longerwholly their own. But the Black-Tree elders had taught Cerk how to defend himself from Unseenattack without the attacker becoming aware of the defense. They’d also taught him never tounderestimate the enemy.

    Cerk shaped himself simple and befuddled. He made his thoughts transparent and his mind seemempty. Brother Kakzim accepted the illusion, then molded it further to his own liking whileCerk watched and learned and quelled waves of nausea.

    “You see, little brother, there’s nothing to worry about.”

    Brother Kakzim came close enough that their robes were touching. They embraced as elder toapprentice, with Cerk on the verge of panic as he forced himself to remain calm and pliant. Hiscompanion was mad. That made him more, not less, dangerous.

    Cerk didn’t flinch when Brother Kakzim pinched his cheek hard enough to pierce skin, thennearly undid everything with a relieved gasp when the hand withdrew. Brother Kakzim pinchedCerk again, not on the cheek, but over the pulsing left-side artery of his neck.

    “Questions can kill,” Brother Kakzim warned calmly as his fingers began to squeeze the arteryshut.

    Cerk has less than a heartbeat to concoct a question that wouldn’t. “I—I do not understandwhy the cavern-folk must die tonight,” he whispered with just enough sincere terror to makeBrother Kakzim unbend his fingers.

    “When the water dies, all Urik will die. All Urik must die. All that exists in the Tablelandsmust die before the Black-Tree triumphs. That is our goal, little brother, our hearts’desire.”

    Cerk swallowed hard, but inwardly, he’d begun to relax. When Brother Kakzim talked about theBlack-Tree, his mind was focused on larger things than a solitary halfling apprentice. Still,he tread carefully; Brother Kakzim had not answered his question, which was an honest question,one to which he dearly wanted an answer.

    “Why start with the cavern-folk, Brother Kakzim? Won’t they die with the rest of Urik oncewe’ve putrefied their water? Why do we have to kill the cavern-folk ourselves? Why can’t welet the contagion kill them for us?”

    A tactical mistake: Brother Kakzim backhanded him against the nearest wall. Cerk feared thatworse was to come, but his Unseen defenses hadn’t broken. There were no further assaults,physical or otherwise, just Brother Kakzim, hissing at him in Halfling.

    “Cut out your tongue lest you tell all our secrets! The cavern-folk must die because ourcontagion cannot be spat into the reservoir by the thimbleful. The ingredients must seethe andsettle for many days before they’ll be potent enough to destroy first Urik, then all thecities of the Tablelands. Our contagions must be incubated…” The white-rimmed eyes wandered,and Cerk held his breath. Kakzim was on the verge of inspiration, and that always meantsomething more for Cerk to do without thanks or assistance. “They must be incubated inalabaster bowls—ten of them, little brother, eight feet across and deep. You’ll find suchbowls and have them set up in the cavern.”

    Cerk blinked, trying to imagine ten alabaster bowls big enough to drown in and completelyunable to imagine where he might find such objects, or how to transport them to the reservoir

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